Thursday, October 09, 2008

Lest we Forget

Two times this week I have received emails headed by that awesome title "Lest we Forget". The first was something that I had never known, and therefore could not forget, the incredibly nasty actions taken by men against women looking to vote in the United States. The second for having used the words "Arbeit Macht Frei", the cynical slogan atop the entrance to Auschwitz.
Both efforts to remind me forced the issue of what those words really mean; lest we forget. What they mean is that someone with some sort of hidden agenda seems to feel that his personal reflection on some far off disaster expresses the urge to remind himself that attention may be flagging.
Face it, lest we forget some of the more blatant miscarriages of sanity in the last hundred years is an elitist statement saying that I have more empathy than thee. It takes to himself the high moral ground of the philosopher or sage pointing your dirty nose into something that has not weighed on your mind in the last ten minutes.
But from what position does the asker express his opinion? What prompts the statement that we must be reminded of 9/11.01 on a constant litanical basis? And what if your interpretation is so far off the asker's base that you literally look on in wonderment? Asking a Muslim about Auschwitz may provoke gales of laughter, especially if the question is asked in Palestine where one ethnic group victim of Nazi intolerance has become the local fascist thugs.
Also, how long must we not forget? For Holocaust victims the waiting period appears to be endless, for Hutus and Tutsis about twenty minutes. Is there a mourning period dictated by the nature of the victims? Do the dead of WWI risk being supplanted by the dead of WWII? Can we roll them all into one mass remembrance since the conflicts over time blur into a feeling of a single war, never completed? Do dead Africans have less mind time than dead stockbrokers in the twin towers even though the kill ratio was 300 to one?
Lest we forget is a complicated statement that assumes more than it should because some things are eminently forgettable, but should not, and others are burned into our collective memories although they may be quite benign. The dead of Kent State should never be put above the dead of Uganda, and yet they are. The killing fields of Laos never became a lest we forget for Western sensibilities, but Custer's last stand is branded in our collective intelligence.
As we approach the next election, I would like to postulate that the one thought we should keep in mind as we vote is to never forget the damage done to so many people in so many places by one person who never could remember any lesson of history.
Lest we forget indeed, we already have.

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